The Night Owls

Dr Seuss may have unknowingly said it best.

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

He was talking about falling in love with a person, of course, of laying restlessly awake with the image of someone you’ve just said goodbye to swirling around in your mind like a droplet of mercury. To sleep would be to force the image out, to let it slowly drip away, or to change into something else. No, sleep must wait, this image is too precious, this feeling too moreish. I’m alive with it rushing through me. Why kill myself with the sedative of sleep?

But no, this is not how Seuss’s quote speaks to me. Not because I’m not in love, I am. My love is right there next to me when the warm embrace of sleep beckons, in fact she’s already wrapped up in it. But I can’t join her, I have to resist it. West Ham United are playing Tottenham Hotspur in an hour and even though we’re well into tomorrow morning, tonight can’t end until the match does.

Being a Premier League night owl is a harrowing task, particularly when West Ham are involved. An incoherent passage of play, a haplessly-conceded goal, another missed chance, it all seems worse when you know that sunrise is edging closer. I do have something to do tomorrow, or at least I don’t want to start the day in the afternoon again, showering at 2, breakfasting at 3 and feeling worthless at 4 as the evening begins. Grumpy, not just because of the team’s shoddiness the night before, but also through fatigue, now with bagged eyes and a short temper. The belated rest I did get was worthless, the image of Matt Jarvis’s umpteenth cross failing to find the head of Carlton Cole was being replayed in my frazzled mind just as it had been repeated again and again on the pitch at Upton Park. A broken record of footballing ineptitude that continues long after the final whistle has sounded.

But that was last week’s game, this week it’s Tottenham. I haven’t learnt my lesson, we never do. It’s our local rivals tonight. Sam’s doing an impression of Vicente del Bosque, putting out a 4-6-0 formation. It’s a decision made in desperation; we have no strikers and a glut of midfielders. We’re at White Hart Lane, and Andre Villas-Boas is an embattled man, licking his lips at the prospect of facing this wounded Hammers team. He was hoping for respite but his day would end miserably, and my night’s sleep would begin swaddled by the warm blanket of victory.

Nothing in the world was more difficult. Celebrating Ravel Morrison’s goal, our third, in total silence that night. If frenzied limbs punching through still air made a sound, the dead would have risen. The mercurial run, the shimmy to remove Dawson, the dinked, laconic finish. It was the biggest, juiciest cherry on top of an already handsome cake. I was a flurry of upper body motion, furiously, noiselessly, fighting my way through the ecstasy. I was roaring at the top of my lungs, jumping for joy, on the inside. I may have pulled a muscle. Next to me, my loved one stirs and my head snaps sideways, scanning for consciousness. I ready my whispered apology. She rolls over and snuffles. Her lovely face is serene. She turns over again and then lays still. I can breathe, relieved.

There’s still 10 minutes to go, but the game is won. I could turn it off now, but why not enjoy it? Even my arch enemy, the dodgy stream, can’t ruin it for me now. So what if I miss a few seconds of the commentary? So what if I get stuck with a mess of pixels on my screen for a moment or two? 3-0 won’t be overturned in ten minutes, not by this lacklustre Spurs side. I can relax. Big Sam can as well. In the end I only hear the final whistle, my stream has given up finally. A victory so sweet I need to brush my teeth twice. Tomorrow’s sleep debt will be worth it, the rose-tinted memories of Winston Reid’s opener, of Vaz Te’s flukey second, of Ravel’s brilliance and of the ashen face of Andre Villas-Boas will give me all the strength I need. I didn’t wake my girlfriend, she’s still snuffling. I want to hug her, but she wouldn’t appreciate my gesture of joy, not right now. I’ll tell her tomorrow and she’ll mercifully feign enough interest to satiate me. The laptop is shut, the whirring of the internal fan suddenly becomes conspicuous in its absence. The light is switched off and the room is as it should be in the wee hours. The fruits of victory are being shared in East End pubs by my English comrades, pints being bought and Bubbles being sung. The thought of them is soothing as sweet slumber embraces me at last. We won, sleep now, we won. These are the worthwhile nights in the life of a Premier League night owl.

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